E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā karangatanga maha, tēnā koutou katoa.
Te mana whenua o tēnei wāhi, Te Āti awa, tēnā koutou.
Otirā ngā iwi whānui tēnā koutou katoa
Mr Speaker I congratulate you on your election and look forward to your guidance in this house.
I begin by acknowledging what a breathtaking honour it is to sit among this Green caucus.
I acknowledge also those who sat here before now: Especially Catherine Delahunty and Keith Locke – You spoke to injustice wherever it happened. That meant a lot to someone like me. Mojo Mathers, for proving to me, and us all, that we all exist beyond our labels - And Metiria Turei for baring her scars bravely to highlight the pain of others.
But today, I want to acknowledge also, those who tell me every day that I don’t belong here. That I should go HOME where I came from. That I have no right to criticise governments here - I should just be grateful I wasn’t left to die. - Hundreds of messages, comments. Mr Speaker, come call for rifles being loaded. I’m numb to it because this is reality for those of us from minority backgrounds-
But I want it noted that this happens every time we scapegoat migrants in this house, every time a TV presenter asks a PM when the governor general is going to look like a Kiwi and sound like it a Kiwi - and that PM laughs. Every time we call refugees “leftovers from terrorist nations” for political gain.
We feel the effect of that out on the streets. We can’t shed our skin.
Patriotism that represses dissent - or creates second class citizens - is archaic and dangerous. It’s antithetical to our culture.
So this day I stand, proud and determined. This day is about democracy and equality, values which New Zealand holds so dear, embodies and stands up for so boldly.
I love this country, but Patriotism - A love of this country- means expecting the absolute best for her. Standing up for the country that we know is possible.
I protest, fight for equality, and fairness because justice is what love looks like in public (that’s Dr Cornell West)
I am the child of revolutionaries
My parents faced tanks for democracy.
At gunpoint, fought for human rights.
Risked torture to take back their country’s resource back from dictators, corrupt corporate interests, and imperialists - to put it back in the hands of the people.
The Iranian Revolution- One of the biggest popular revolution in modern history. Iranians poured onto the streets to fight inequality. But their revolution was hijacked, and my life was ultimately shaped by one of the most repressive regimes in the modern world.
Everyone knew someone who disappeared into a torture chamber, Everyone knew women flogged for disregarding Islamic dress. Everyone worried about their phone being tapped.
This was just the backdrop to a bloody war we fought against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I remember the bombs, the sirens, running to the basement. Waiting.
Mostly I remember the kids, my age, who stopped speaking because of shell shock.
Then scarcity set in as America backed Saddam. We had to use coupons for food.
Later we found out that the West had backed both sides in that war. For profit.
Mr Speaker - that is what refugees are made of.
So I feel a kinship with First Nations Peoples, with tangata whenua. Because we too have been alienated from our land and resources by war and imperialism. We face the same prejudice and degradation. That is why I want te Tiriti o Waitangi to be a living constitutional document in this county– shaping policy, including on immigration. We need to work together - Migrants, refugees, Pasifika peoples and tangata whenua -for we have far more that unites us that that which divides us.
Mr Speaker- My mum was a child psychologist. She never worked because she refused to sit Islamic religious exams – she didn’t believe religion should influence mental health should services
My father was an agricultural engineer who worked on developing plant based renewable energies - Green to the core.
So let’s remember that our values exist in all cultures - the Middle East, just like the West, has fierce environmentalists, feminists, governments selling us off to multi-nationals, But also religious fundamentalism.
Let’s amplify the voices in all cultures, who stand for tolerance and equality - above those who would silence them.
We fled that repression when it got too dangerous for us. We landed at Auckland airport - The fear was palpable, I can still remember it. I was 9 years old. I knew the unthinkable was awaiting us if we were returned. But we weren’t. We were welcomed here.
My two most vivid first impressions of this incredible country were the warmth of that welcome- I didn’t realise it then but that was our rights, humanity being recognised.
And that it was so SO GREEN.
THAT is what NZ is to me.
My work in this house will be committed to upholding those incredible first impressions.
I became a lawyer because I wanted to enforce human rights
The criminal law is the purest form of human rights law in our system.
The most frightening thing I’ve seen in almost a decade of acting as a criminal lawyer all over the world, was the sight of a 13-year-old boy sitting behind a very large table awaiting his trial for murder at the Auckland High Court. I acted as part of the defence team fighting to keep him from life imprisonment. He was tried as an adult, because that is what our law requires. He had thrown a rock over an overbridge which tragically took another young life.
He suffered from mental health issues – as do most in our criminal justice system. He was brown. He was from South Auckland. His family couldn’t afford electricity, so they moved from house to house until it was cut off. He didn’t have a lot of schooling. His CYFS file was the stuff of nightmares. Our most vulnerable.
The frontlines of our criminal justice system is where I learned about unchecked prejudice, it turned me into a human rights lawyer - and my focus turned to child rights.
It was living in Africa working on genocide trials where I then learned how prejudice turns to atrocity. Politicians scapegoating groups, as a group, for any social ills, dehumanising language in the media, used for political gain-
Every time I see that I think: That’s how is how it starts.
I saw that at the Rwanda Tribunal, at The Hague and when I prosecuted the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
Holding politicians and armies to account for breaching their powers. Giving voice to women, and minorities who are most viciously targeted by abusers.
These experiences have instilled in me a commitment to human rights and democracy that I first had for having seen the world without them.
Human Rights are Universal - we don’t have fewer rights based on our religion, where we were born, or who we love- We don’t have fewer rights for having children out of wedlock, or being charged with a crime.
There is no such thing as ‘the deserving poor’, or the good refugee - we have rights not because good. But because we are human.
Human rights are Indivisible- We have a bundle of rights. You can’t have one without the others- you can’t say we have democracy or free speech unless we also have the right to education. We don’t have the right to education if the kids we are education are hungry or live in cars. No right is realised without all rights being realised. And over the past decade in NZ our democracy has been undermined because too many of our economic, social and cultural rights were breached. I want to entrench them.
Finally- Human rights create enforceable obligations of this and every government – This isn’t charity, the people don’t have to beg. We can’t privatise them away. We have a mandate to govern only if we can provide those rights to everyone. I want NZ to get back to a culture of expecting this!
None of that is separate from the Environment – Protection of human rights is intrinsically linked with protecting nature. Just ask the people of the Pacific, whose homelands are being drowned out because of unrestrained growth, waste, pollution, consumption that they did not benefit from or participate in.
One of the greatest threats to both human and nature’s rights is the subjugation of democracy to corporate interest. A rampant market on a finite planet.
New Zealand must lead by example on these global issues- We’ve stood against status quo interests when it was the right thing to do. We will be that righteous little nation on the global stage again.
I never meant to run as the first ever refugee MP. But I quickly realised that my face, my story mean so much to so many people. So my fear of tokenism dissipated.
I remembered, getting notes and emails from my female interns, especially of minority backgrounds- telling me over and over again how much it meant to see someone like them forge that path. Some of them are carrying that mantle today. I realised then that it was important for that process to have victim of governance by repression and mass murder stand up in those courtrooms, mostly dominated by Western men. Representation matters.
So this is a victory for a 9 year-old asylum seeker, but also for every person who’s ever felt excluded, out of place, been told she has limits on her dreams.
For getting me here- I want to thank the voters- You have humbled me forever. You voted for diversity, for fairness, and for nature when you voted Green this election.
To our Green activist and staff, especially in Auckland. You worked harder and harder as things got harder this election. You inspire me.
My campaign team, especially Ron and Daniel, and my second, political family, all of you Chalmerses- your support is life affirming.
My parents, both strong, Iranian Kiwi feminists. You gave up everything when you stood up for freedom. You gave up everything- your friends, your family, your professions, your language - because you weren’t willing to raise a little girl in oppression. I thank you.
And to maybe the most political person I know. Though a very large, loud white boy, my partner, who at some point (it feels like a lifetime ago) stopped me mid rant, when I was lamenting the lack of activism in politics, losing some of my favourite MPs. I was saying: which candidate will stand up against the GCSB? Who’ll be the new Keith Locke? You stopped me and said: You will be that candidate ----- And I was. We’re both political, we are both adventurers. But you are also patient. I thank you for that. And for love. But mostly: courage. On that day. And every day.
I stand here today as the child of revolutionaries, as a child asylum seeker, an international human rights lawyer, an activist – as a Green.
My standing here proves New Zealand is a place where a nine-year-old refugee, a girl, from the Middle East, can grow up to one day enter Parliament. It proves the strength and goodness of New Zealand’s values.
He oranga whenua
He oranga tangata
Ka ora tātou katoa
Nō reira e te whare, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.